We New Mexicans are lucky to have so many luminaries living among us, especially considering the rural nature of our state. One such figure is Mr. Delano Lewis, former United States Ambassador to South Africa who currently lives in Las Cruces. If you’re so young that you might not appreciate having a former US Ambassador in our midst (or if you have a teenager in the house), you might be interested to know that Ambassador Lewis’ son, Philip, played Mr. Moseby on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and The Suite Life on Deck on the Disney Channel. But, I digress; Mr. Lewis is an incredibly accomplished man, with an impressive professional history. Not only was he an Associate Director and Country Director for the Peace Corps in Nigeria and Uganda, and the Chief Executive Officer for NPR Radio, he has served on the boards of such international for-profit companies as Apple Computer, Black Entertainment Television (BET), Colgate-Palmolive, Haliburton, and Eastman Kodak.
Ambassador Lewis‘ new book, It All Begins with Self, is an inspiring tale of his own journey. I recently had the honor of posing a few questions to Mr. Lewis, and here is what he had to say:
MLC: Your book, It All Begins with Self, is very powerful and motivating. Did you write it with the intention of inspiring others to greatness? Or was it a more a personal journey for you; a reflection on your life and achievements to this point? Maybe both?
DL: I had both ideas in mind when I wrote the book. First, I wrote the book for my children and grandchildren. I wanted them to know about my life experiences and career choices.
Secondly, I wanted to inspire and motivate others.
MLC: How do you feel your leadership roles in not-for-profit/public service organizations like the Peace Corps and NPR prepared you for your work with large for-profit companies like Kodak and Apple? And further, what key learnings from your extensive professional career best served you in your role as US Ambassador to South Africa?
DL: The greatest lesson I learned from serving a not-for-profit boards was the understanding of people. People translate into customers in the for-profit world. Therefore an understanding of people and their cultures and behaviors will be an asset in dealing with for profit boards. Another lesson from the not-for-profit world was the understanding of values. The values of honesty, fairness, high ethical standards and transparency could be used in both the not-for-profit and for-profit world
The key lesson I learned from my professional career which best prepared me for the role of US Ambassador to South Africa was the understanding of business. South Africa was beginning to embrace the free enterprise system. They were beginning to privatize State owned businesses. Therefore, the keen understanding of American business was an asset in helping South Africa with the free enterprise capitalistic system.
Further, the combination of my many careers helped me as an Ambassador:
-US government service: lawyer and Peace Corps service.
– US business: 21 years in telecommunications.
– nonprofit: National Public Radio/communications.
MLC: You say you knew in high school that you wanted to study law. What advice might you offer young people who may find themselves foundering and disinterested as they progress through educational institutions often more focused on teaching to the test than teaching the whole child?
DL: My advice to young people is to know their strengths and build and expand on them. You build and expand those strengths through education, training and skill development. Sometimes you have to work through the system and those tests are important and necessary in order to achieve your objectives. Take advantage of opportunities and don’t be afraid to take risks.
MLC: For you, family has been a major foundation of your life and career. Outside of your immediate family, who would you say has had the biggest influence on your life?
DL: Outside of my family there are three persons that influenced my life the most. My high school principal who believed in me and gave me opportunities to excel (Sol Thompson). Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, for his steadfast push for equal rights and moral leadership. Ralph Frey- The telephone executive who hired me and gave me every opportunity to advance in the telecommunications business.
MLC: What music inspires you? Calms you? Revs you up?
DL: I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas and became a modern jazz fan. My favorites are Dave Brubeck, Chuck Mangione, Ahmad Jamal and Ramsey Lewis. I’ve also come to appreciate classical music and it does calm me down. I love to dance so I’ve always been a fan of the Motown sound, Marvin Gaye and Al Green in particular.